By Steve Bauer
The accessory ATV market has long been a profit center for dealers, particularly those catering to hunters. Recently, however, the desire of hunters to be more mobile in the field than ever before has spawned a rapidly growing segment: the hunting trailer.
“These types of trailers have been around for years, but a year or two ago companies started capitalizing on this trend and producing a variety of trailers, from the simple to the plain bizarre,” said Ken Shattuck, owner of Gaston Cycle and Trailer outside of San Antonio, Texas. “They’re a big deal here in Texas, and depending on the customer and what they’re looking for, if you’re talking something really fancy I’ve sold units at 100 percent profit.”
The trailers, which can usually be towed with a 450cc or larger ATV, range from simple storage trailers to three- and four-level condos complete with heat, electricity, custom cabinetry and gun cases.
Trent Dutcher, president of Mid America Custom Trailer in Red Bud, Ill., says his company recently added new hunting-specific models to its trailer lineup because of the demand from hunters who wanted to use their ATVs to not only travel to a remote hunting location, but be able to set up larger stands/blinds there as well.
“Most of our trailers in the past required that they be towed by truck or car,” he said. “But in the past year, we’ve come out with two hunting-specific models that can be towed with an ATV or UTV. It’s an issue of both convenience and easy mobility for hunting enthusiasts.”
Dutcher relayed a story about one hunter who insisted on being able to get cable reception from his trailer.
“He really only had time to hunt on Sundays and was a huge Chicago Bears fan, so he wanted a setup where he could hunt all day yet still be able to watch football too,” he said. “We specialize in customizing our trailers for individual needs, but that’s the only request I’ve ever received for cable. It’s really a growing niche for hunters to have these customized trailers. Our business in that segment has more than doubled this year alone.”
Specialization doesn’t end with cable TV however. One company, Portable Lift Equipment of Brownsville, Texas, has taken its patented hydraulic trailer lift systems and built hunting blinds that are designed specifically for handicapped hunters.
“We conducted a lot of research and found there were thousands of disabled hunters out there who had stopped hunting because they couldn’t get in a treestand or hunt in areas that would give them opportunities to be concealed,” said Jeffrey Wurth, the company’s owner. “We built our first hunting-specific hydraulic trailer in 2006, and they are now our most popular model in our lineup.”
Wurth notes that in two years, the company has sold more than 150 hunting-specific trailers, each ranging from $5,000-$25,000. He says the desire of hunters to stay in the field, even after an accident or other tragedy has left them disabled, never goes away.
“It really is a passion for them, and typically once they are brave enough to get in one of our models and we lift them up to 20-25 feet, they’re sold,” he said. “We’re designing even more models not only for handicapped hunters, but even units for hunters who want to be up high, but want the safety that typical treestands don’t provide.”
Hunting trailers only
Eddie Meeks, owner of North Texas Trailers in Lewisville, Texas, started his hunting trailer business in 2007 after attending a hunt and sitting for five days in a decked-out trailer that a fellow hunter had designed and built himself. The setup was two stories and featured sleeping quarters, a kitchen, restroom facilities and a small kitchen. After spending nearly a week camped out in the trailer and talking with other hunters on the trip who all said they’d love a similar trailer if they had the ability to build it, Meeks went into action.
“I immediately saw a huge opportunity for a business that I knew would be extremely popular in my local area,” he said. “What I didn’t expect, however, is how much word-of-mouth business I would receive, and that my small business now has a customer base from nearly every state in the country.”
Meeks’ trailers are built on each customer’s specifications, meaning no two models are the same. His original staff of two in 2007 will have quadrupled by the beginning of 2009.
“I can barely keep up with orders, and I haven’t seen much in the way of competition either, which has really surprised me,” he said. “Hunters probably have the most disposable income of any recreational demographic out there, and I’ve had customers easily spend $50,000 on a trailer that you can tow into a remote location and basically live very well in for an extended period of time.”
And not every hunter is looking for extreme comfort. Bosski ATV Wagons in Caldwell, Idaho, offers hunters a portable blind that doesn’t feature expensive amenities, but can be hauled to a location, parked and used without leaving their ATV or other vehicle behind.
“We offer simple camouflaged blinds that offer protection from the weather and some storage capabilities, and we’ve found that having their ATVs attached to the trailers for quick and easy movement is all they really need,” said Patrick Garland, Bosski’s director of sales. “With the simplicity of the trailers comes a smaller price tag, and with the current economic conditions the way they are, we’ve found that our models have a great deal of appeal to hunters.”
Xtreme Field Hunting Products, located in Enderlin, N.D., specializes in trailer setups that can be submerged in a pond or swamp for waterfowl hunters. Owner Daniel Lawrence says he came up with the idea for a water-specific trailer setup after struggling for years to drag his canoe setup in and out of soggy, rough and cold conditions in North Dakota and Canada.
“I was sick and tired of spending more time getting my set-up in place than actually hunting,” he said. “In many areas of the country you can’t leave a waterfowl setup in place like you can for deer blinds, for example. So I used an ATV trailer I had and built a blind setup on top of it, and people quickly started to take interest in it.”
Lawrence says although he began his business by selling the trailer setups out of his house, he now ships through a small dealer network in the northern U.S. and also Canada.
“I have some large dealerships that can’t keep these in stock,” he said. “And these are franchise dealers who carry everything from Polaris to Yamaha and everything in between. They have realized what great profit margins these specialized trailers have, and how much more hunters will pay for just a little bit of comfort and convenience.”
Lawrence says he expects sales this year to triple his 2007 totals, and will soon have an online ordering system in place on his Web site.
Campa, an Elyria, Ohio-based company that specializes in all-terrain adventure and survival trailers, has built its reputation on catering to extreme tastes.
One of Campa’s best-selling models, but far from its most extreme, is its All-Terrain Trailer featuring the company’s Disaster Reconnaissance System. Some of the features of the trailer include a fully fitted oak kitchen unit; on-demand hot water shower system; water purification system; a 12v electrical system; solar paneling; electric fridge/freezer; a Honda EU1000i generator; and a mobile communications system that includes a satellite phone.
Chris Cole, president of Campa, says although the trailer was originally built for the U.S. military, since the company started selling the units in 2004 hunters have been among its best clients.
“I have hunters who will take this thing on their ATVs or trucks, head out to practically the middle of nowhere and set up camp for two weeks or more,” he said. “We always joke that hunters are our best customers because with our trailers they can spend weeks or months completely cut off from contact with their wives.”
On a more serious note, Cole says the big reasons these specialty trailers have become such hot sellers with hunters is their ability to not only give hunters a compact, easily concealable unit to hunt in, but it also allows them to be comfortable and enjoy some of the spoils of everyday life that you would never have in a traditional hunting camp. Another attractive feature for hunting enthusiasts are the trailers’ rooftop-style tents. Portions of the tent, which are elevated above the trailer, have proved ideal for scouting and can even serve as a treestand substitute.
“The ability to be self contained in remote areas is an attractive feature for them,” he said. “Hunting is a sport that requires a great deal of patience and waiting. These units are designed to make someone as comfortable as possible in those situations without sacrificing the overall outdoor experience.”
Because of the increased demand for the trailers from hunters, Cole says Campa has new models planned for production that will be designed to give even greater attention to the hunting market, which according to the National Sporting Goods Foundation, is estimated to be at $1.25 billion.
“This particular vertical market makes a lot of sense for us because the product is a great fit,” he said. “And pardon the pun, but every time hunters see our trailer, they’re just blown away.”